Op-Ed: More Sunlight Needed for Santa Barbara County Board of Education

By Michelle de Werd, Los Olivos resident and Trustee of the Santa Barbara County Board of Education, District #4

The late U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Louis Brandeis, introduced the phrase “Sunlight is the Best Disinfectant,” in the early 20th century. He also penned the term in his book, “Other People’s Money.”

The Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) regulates campaign financing, conflicts of interest, lobbying, and government ethics. Form 700 – Statement of Economic Interest, is one tool for holding school board members accountable to the public. As school board members, we must disclose financial interests that may be affected by our decisions and file our Form 700 every year in March. Form 700 filings are available to the public.

The Santa Barbara County Board of Education (SBCBOE) should be the shining example of transparency for all school boards and provide greater public access. Four months ago, I suggested that our school board meetings be video-recorded and posted on the Santa Barbara County Education Office (SBCEO) website. Many local school districts, city councils, other County Boards of Education, and the County Board of Supervisors live-stream board meetings in English and Spanish and are posted for later viewing.

Our local newspapers play an essential role in our democracy, keeping the public informed and our government accountable. There was a time when local newspaper reporters attended public school board meetings regularly and would report on board comments and decisions the following day, but tight budgets prevent this practice.

The SBCBOE holds its school board meetings on the first Thursday of the month at 2:00 p.m. at 4400 Cathedral Oaks Road, Santa Barbara. Who knows who we prevent from attending our meetings because of time and costs, especially working parents, parents of young children, and those who live long distances (Santa Maria, Guadalupe, Santa Ynez Valley, Cuyama, and Lompoc)?

The SBCBOE serves approximately 70,000 students countywide, 23 school districts, and oversees a $104 million annual budget (taxpayer dollars). We also set Board Policy, adjudicate Charter School appeals, and Interdistrict Attendance Transfer Appeals.

On May 5, 2022, at our Regular Meeting, the Board took action and voted “no” (5-2) on video-recording our school board meetings and archiving videos on the SBCEO website. The Board agreed to explore audio recordings at a future meeting. 

During the board discussions, I took notes on board members’ comments as to the reasoning behind the “no,” which included: “We are very transparent,” “You are looking for a solution where there is no problem,” “We provide minutes,” “The purpose is not a town hall meeting,” “No members of the public are asking for this,” “costs, staffing, and legal implications,” “What we do is very transparent; there is a possibility of politicization, grandstanding,” “In the past 20 years, there has never been a problem”. 

One board member quoted Senator Ben Sasse (R., Neb.) from the Wall Street Journal article, “Sasse cites ‘jackassery’ in warning against cameras in Supreme Court.” 

Public access to school board meetings is about inclusion. In this age of technology, I believe denying our community video-recorded meetings, especially regarding public education, will undercut the public’s faith in us. 

I do not speak on behalf of the Santa Barbara County Board of Education or the Santa Barbara County Education Office.

Op-Ed’s are written by community members, not representatives of edhat. The views and opinions expressed in Op-Ed articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of edhat. 
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  1. DUKE – who is happy about the status quo? I’ve seen NO one, including Salcido, saying it’s perfect and no change is needed. Supporting her isn’t saying everything is fine, it’s saying we believe she is the better person to continue fixing this and improving our state scores, among so many other things that are far more important to the success of our kids’ education. You’re getting a little black/white on this.

  2. I assume you mean edhat readers and not edhat itself as an entity. Readers of this site have always ran the gamut although far right commenters have been building in bulk for the last 6 years and no website is immune.
    I think we can all agree that transparency is a good thing. The fear is, that many far right extremists (including Lozano and Fair Education), could take these videos, chop them up and use soundbites of cherry picked statements without the full context of the discussion, to further their one-sided bigoted agenda. Exactly what Lozano is already doing on YouTube and this is the main reason the League of Women Voters did not want her to edit the video of the forum.

  3. Sac – There are quite a few people on here who celebrate the status quo! We saw this all throughout the school board elections, school’s responses to COVID, etc. Honestly I don’t think Lozano has the experience to lead…but there is a large element of people on here who think any criticism of the school system makes you a lunatic on the fringe and that everything is great.

  4. DUKE – covid aside, I don’t think anyone is celebrating our test scores. I’ve been saying they’re not indicative of “failing” schools, but they are a concern. Criticism of the school system is one thing, but supporting anti-LGBQT policies and pushing to remove any discussion of racism and the role it played in our history IS extremist.

  5. There are no anti-LGBQT policies nor push to remove of discussion of racism here. More left-wing talking points… (even nationally, being against teaching K-3 kids about sex, sexual orientation and gender identity IS NOT anti-LGBQT)

  6. ” far right extremists (including Lozano and Fair Education), could take these videos, chop them up and use soundbites of cherry picked statements without the full context of the discussion” YES OF COURSE! It’s only those far right extremists who’d do something crazy like that! SMH….

  7. For the 100th time “teaching K-3 kids about sex, sexual orientation and gender identity” is not what this is about. No one is suggesting we teach that. The concern is the outright BAN (and related risk of legal action and termination) against teachers even discussing LGBQT issues in an age-appropriate manner. You need to stop making things up.

  8. Read some of Christy’s interviews – some of her answer’s aren’t even sane. Her continual diatribe about what is being taught in school, actually isn’t being taught in school
    “If two dads want to go be together somewhere, fine. But don’t steal someone’s kid. That’s teaching stealing, teaching kidnapping. What’s insidious is that the focus is on the dads’ plight, and not on the mother who’s just had her baby stolen. You lose focus on the bad behavior that caused the poor creature to lose her egg. The kids are learning the absolutely wrong lesson from this kind of book.”
    “That’s actually how you run a really good school, because the kids know you mean what you say. You have to take out a seagull every once in a while, so they know that…
    “Take out a seagull? What does that mean? I say that because at the dump, there is a falconer. He holds the falcon, and the seagulls come to get the trash. Well, they let the falcon take out a seagull every once in a while, so that the seagulls are afraid.”…”You were telling me about a school that was mostly Hispanic and had somebody come in to read one of these stories, let’s say it was about a boy who liked to wear dresses, and necklaces, and whatever. The boys, in particular, who again, were six, seven years old, were laughing, and shaking their heads, saying, “No, that’s wrong. Boys don’t do that!” Tell me how the teacher who was reading that to the children responded to their skepticism.
    He was upset, and called them very close-minded little kids.
    Did he say that to their faces?
    I don’t know if he said it to their faces, but he did seem upset. He told me that he couldn’t believe how closed they were to those ideas. That he had come from San Francisco, and those kids are way more open minded. I felt sad for the kids, because that teacher is making them feel bad for saying, “No, this is wrong; boys don’t do that!” The kids are right, most boys don’t do that. But the teacher is telling them they are wrong. That’s very disturbing to me. I know the teacher has the power to do that. That’s why it’s so important to let people know, you’ve got to protect your kids.”

  9. Ya, those Fair people are down right (bat shit – Wuhan strength) crazy. Believing in equality of opportunity and fighting back against all forms of discrimination. They should probably be deplatformed in favor of those who think the opposite.

  10. goletaisgood… if you read carefully I said the County gives the final approval of LCAP which it does. The districts develop their own plans and their boards OK it but the county does the final OK. Also read carefully I never claimed it was secretive.. but I am saying it must be more inclusive. I have been on the SBUSD lcap plan however myself and other parents did not feel heard and were concerned that the monies was not being spent in the most effective manner for the students who generate the fund. In 2016-2019 Public Advocates in SF a law firm filed a complaint against our district for misuse of lcap. So it does happen. And it is good if the meetings are accessible to the public. Accessible and inclusive. To me it is important that the media can listen to it too if it chooses to do so.

  11. This woman was the last election’s right wing stealth candidate. Uninformed voters did not know she was being supported by the national network of public school opponents. Interesting that she is coming out with this the same time a like-minded extremist is running against the incumbent school superintendent.

  12. I think she makes some good points. How can the media be involved if the meetings are at 2:00. Videotaping the meetings like SBUSD does is good for stakeholder engagement. Also the County makes the final approval of LCAP fund spending which goes to our most vulnerable students who generate it and is suppose to be spent in the most effective means and includes meaningful stakeholder imput to meet the laws equity promis.. Most people work at 2:00 on Thursdays. So videotaping would allow meaningful imput. This is not about right or left wings. It is about being inclusive and making sure LCAP is spent in the most effective way as it intended to be.

  13. Was Edhat always so viciously partisan? What is wrong with recording meetings? SBCOE meeting currently take place the first Monday of the month at 2pm. Most families are working then and/or picking up kids. that time and local reporters often covering other stories. Recording the meetings seems like an obviously solution, especially for those in North County. What am I missing?

  14. Those that champion the status quo of our schools don’t have a real interest in our kids. Lozano might be terrible, but the people blindly cheering on our school boards, teachers unions and school admins are doing so to the tangible detriment of our youth.

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